When logging on to an entertainment website recently, I was forced to watch a preview for the new Adam Sandler movie, That’s My Boy, wherein Mr. Sandler plays an ugly stereotype with a funny voice. You know the one. Anyway, during this dumb preview, they showed a bunch of blurbs from people saying how “great” and “funny” the movie is and every single one of these is from somebody on Twitter. Not film critics, not industry people, not even friends of the filmmakers, all the review were from Joe Twitter-User. Basically, the makers of the film told people who came to advanced screenings to tweet about what they thought of the movie and they chose the “best” ones and put them in the ad. It’s no different than them quoting focus group comment cards, but since they can’t put “Bob from the focus group” on posters, they’re quoting Tweeters instead. Why is Twitter suddenly the same as a news outlet? Furthermore, why do I care what jackasses who went to a free screening think?
“Jackasses,” you may well ask, “like film critics?” It’s true; most film critics get to go see free screenings of the movies they review. These are called “press screenings” and they’re not as prevalent as they used to be. Increasingly, films will not be screened for critics prior to the general release and if a critic wants to go see it, they have to put up their money like everybody else. Not screening a film for critics is usually a good tip-off to the critics (and cinemagoers if they’re paying attention) that the movie probably isn’t going to be very good. Not 100% of the time, but a lot of the time this is true. Critics have a good amount of clout, though not as much as in the past, and studios are trying to do whatever they can to get people to see their film in that all-important first weekend. With Twitter giving everybody a voice and an opinion, they’ve found a gold mine. But does everyone deserve to have their opinion count?
There is a disturbing trend lately by filmmakers who feel they’re getting an unfair shake from film critics to disparage the entire practice of film criticism. The most vocal of these is Kevin Smith, who recently launched a new Hulu show called Spoilers in which a group of regular-ass people watch a new movie and, “like Phil Donahue,” Smith walks into the audience with a microphone and asks them what they thought of it. His premise is that it’s real people who watch movies. After his last few comedies failed to receive critical praise, the podcast mogul, who has a very loyal and supportive fan base, declared publically that critics shouldn’t get to decide how his movies do and that the opinion of the average moviegoer should be and are more important.
There are so many ways I disagree with this notion. Firstly, I don’t give a shit what the average moviegoer thinks. I want to hear people who are educated about cinema and who have seen hundreds and thousands of films (dare I call them “experts?”) give their opinion. This is not only because I write film criticism myself, it’s because I want to hear what people who theoretically know movies best have to say. Why would you not want to hear from people whose job it is to know things? If I’m worried about a lump on my arm, I’m gonna go to the person who’s spent their life devoted to studying lumps on people’s arms, not the guy who’s seen every episode of Dr. Oz.
Second, studios and filmmakers who want the “everyman” opinion on something are betting that the “everyman” will think it’s good. No studio in their right mind would put a bad review of their movie on their advertising, even if it is from a douche from Twitter. What if everybody, and I mean everybody, at the focus group hated their movie and tweeted as such, but Roger Ebert, A.O. Scott, and Mark Kermode all liked it; would they still put the Tweets in the ads? No, of course they wouldn’t. They would put those three respected film critics’ names on their posters in big, bold letters. And they’d probably use the Impact font. It’s not WHO says a nice thing that counts, it’s that someone says something nice that other people can read and go, “oh, well THAT guy liked it; maybe I should go see that movie.” It’s simple: If you don’t want bad things said about your movie, make better movies.
“I blame the internet,” types Kyle on the internet. Look, I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy of this, being an online opinion-spewer myself. I love films and I love hearing the opinion of people who know what they’re talking about. I’m not a film snob, either. I love bad movies and write a weekly column on this very website called “Awesomely Bad Movies” where I discuss movies that aren’t very good but still enjoyable. All of this is to say, I think my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt the way every critic’s opinion should. But you wouldn’t take weight loss advice from a fat person or a heroin addict and so you shouldn’t take your film advice from people who maybe only watch five movies a year and they all have the word “Movie” in the title.
Twitter is quite an interesting beast and I enjoy using it. However, the opinions of Twitter users should not be read out on CNN in the same beat as an expert. What qualifies these people’s opinions? Probably years of schooling and experience in the field, right? No; the fact that they have a Twitter account. Remember after The Hunger Games opened and all those horrible, vile, racists got on Twitter to say how the race of a character depicted in the film now makes them not like the character’s plight or death? These are the people you want endorsing your work? Opinions are like assholes, every asshole has one; we need to be choosier about which hole we listen to. I’m glad we value the vox populi in this country, but not every populi should have a vox.